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J Neuroendocrinol. 2008 Jul;20(7):917-29. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2826.2008.01744.x. Epub 2008 Apr 28.

Melatonin activates brain dopaminergic systems in the eel with an inhibitory impact on reproductive function.

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USM 0401, UMR 5178 CNRS/MNHN/UPMC Biologie des Organismes Marins et Ecosystèmes, Département des Milieux et Peuplements Aquatiques, Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle, Paris, France.


In the eel, a deficit in gonadotrophin-releasing hormone (GnRH) and a strong dopaminergic (DA) inhibition are responsible for the blockade of gonad development if silver eels are prevented from their reproductive migration. Environmental factors that eels encounter during their oceanic reproductive migration are thought to play an important role in the stimulation of eel pubertal development. We investigated the potential role of melatonin, a known mediator of the effects of external factors on reproductive function in vertebrates. We demonstrated that a long-term melatonin treatment increased brain tyrosine hydroxylase (TH, the rate limiting enzyme of DA synthesis) mRNA expression in a region-dependent way. Melatonin stimulated the dopaminergic system of the preoptic area, which is involved in the inhibitory control of gonadotrophin [luteinising hormone (LH) and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH)] synthesis and release. Moreover, we showed that the increased TH expression appeared to be consistent with melatonin binding site distribution as shown by 2[(125)I]-melatonin labelling studies. On the other hand, melatonin had no effects on the two eel native forms of GnRH (mGnRH and cGnRH-II) mRNA expression. Concerning the pituitary-gonad axis, we showed that melatonin treatment decreased both gonadotrophin beta-subunit (LHbeta, FSHbeta) mRNA expression and reduced sexual steroid (11-ketotestosterone, oestradiol) plasma levels. This indicates that melatonin treatment had a negative effect on eel reproductive function. To our knowledge, the results of the present study provide the first evidence that melatonin enhances TH expression in specific brain regions in a non-mammalian species. By this mechanism melatonin could represent one pathway by which environmental factors could modulate reproductive function in the eel.

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